What is love anyway? That agonizing, exhilarating, fought for, died for, stolen for, begged for, dreamed of and hoped for condition, like no other in the world. We all simply must have it, it’s the most magical and craved aspect of the human experience: to love and be loved.

Yet we can’t see love, can’t hear it, or touch it. You sense it in a place inside of you that you can’t explain, an intuitive knowing of the heart. You embark on the journey of love from the moment you are born. Because you are driven to. Because love is the meaning of life itself. And many milestones accompany this journey of discovering, having and losing love.

Here are 21 love milestones you don’t want to miss. They don’t necessarily happen in any particular chronological order, but you will experience them at some point. Which milestone are you on? Which ones haven’t you been through? And which ones do you look forward to?

1. You hear about this crazy little thing called love.

Can you even remember that far back? There was a moment in time—in your life—when you saw, heard about, or read about this thing called ‘love.’ Maybe it involved giggles on the playground, a flashlight under your covers as a young child buried in a book, or seeing two lovers kissing on the street.

2. You realize with certainty that a parent loves you.

There is a moment you can pick, if you think back, that you can look at and say, “Yep, my Mom loves me,” or, “My Dad loves me even though he may not have said ‘I love you’ since I was past the age of 10, or so.” Maybe it was a smile of pride in your direction. Through their own ‘stuff’, you can pick a moment as your parental milestone of love: a symbol of their love for you.

3. You discover books about love.

Suddenly you’re part of the book you’re reading, swept into the story of two people falling in love. It happened to me at a young age, reading L.M. Montgomery’s Anne Of Green Gables. Maybe for you it’s identifying with Betty and Veronica in the Archie comics, or Cinderella. There’s a first time you read about love.

4. You’re transfixed by a love story in a movie.

This milestone is when you have your own moment in a movie that transfers love from the screen right to your heart. Maybe it’s the old-fashioned classic, where Bogart says goodbye to Bergman—forever. Or maybe it’s the Disney movie that gets you, that makes you want to shake it all up and make your love better.

For my six-year-old, infatuated with cars, all he could talk about after seeing Disney’s Cars movie was not the cars, but how the plane fell in love with the race car, and they kissed. He was hooked! On love, that is.

5. Your friend falls in love.

You watch your friend’s love unfold before your eyes, hearing every detail (more than once). Maybe it makes you believe in love again, or reinforces the love you have. Perhaps it stirs up the realization that there’s something they have that you want. So badly. And it may even change your friendship.

6. You see how someone loves you in black and white.

Before email, we had letters. Remember? Those things where you take a pen and write out what you want to say on a piece of stationery and put it into an envelope? Okay, we’ll allow a love email, or a love message that you print out and can save forever.

7. You did it. You fell in love for the first time.

Hit by a ton of bricks. Yup, it’s happened to you. You fell in love. Oh, so this is what all the talk is about. Knowing that, yes, you can find love, and yes, you have found love. Wow! The first time you knew you were in love is your first love ever, whether it’s the one you end up with or not. I mean, it’s your First Love! Who was your first love? Don’t have one yet? Don’t despair! This is a milestone worth dreaming about and fighting for.

8. You hold hands for the first time with someone you love.

The electricity of touch. The first time you hold hands with a beloved gets etched in your memory. Where were you when you touched for the first time, or had her arm around your waist, his hand around your shoulder?

9. Your first kiss ever in this lifetime.

K-I-S-S-I-N-G! Where was your first kiss? Who started it? Did you bump noses? How was it? Did you tell your friends? Are you still waiting for it?

10. You hear “I love you” for the first time.

This milestone is hearing those three little words for the very first time from a romantic partner: “I love you.” You feel included, welcomed, like you’ve been initiated into the tribe of the lovers. You come alive in a way you never have before.

11. You realize there is love for you outside of romantic love.

Do you allow the universe to love you? Did you fall in love with the moon? The stars are winking at you, if only you’ll look up. Take the time, if you haven’t already, to acknowledge this love, and allow the sun to keep you warm and shine its light upon you. We often don’t realize that this is a milestone in love, to stop and realize that, yes, the world loves you!

12. You consider doing scary things in the name of love.

Here’s a scary love milestone. Have you ever wanted to stalk someone, or follow their every move because you love them? Well, of course, not the illegal kind of stalking, rather the girlfriend kind. You know, getting on the phone and calling whoever knows them and asking when and where they saw them and with whom. Or Googling his or her name, or wanting to drive by their house or work to see if you can catch a glimpse?

Has someone made you feel so passionate about them that you lie awake wondering how to find out more about them?

13. You are completely and utterly depressed over love.

You realize—shocked—that love is not everything you hoped and dreamed it would be. You shut the curtains and ignore your phone. Maybe it’s the relationship you’re in that’s let you down, or you’re not finding the love you want. You mourn, darkness descends. That is, until the sun peeks through the slot in the window dressing, and you’re driven to seek out love again.

14. You find forgiveness in your heart for someone you love.

Your romantic partner messes up, big time, and you know they don’t deserve your loving, yet you find a way to move on and love them anyway. This is the milestone of unconditional forgiveness in love. Maybe you don’t find forgiveness; or you can’t yet. Then you contemplate forgiveness.

15. You really, really, really love yourself and say so out loud.

Did you ever stop to think about loving yourself? Go ahead, grab your phone, smile, take a selfie. How much do you really love yourself? Stop in the mirror and look into your eyes and say, “I love you,” to yourself for the first time. Then do it again and again.

16. You slam the door shut on love forever (then you open it again).

You doubt love exists, and you close the door. You see lovers in the street, and stake your claim in the disbelief of love, well, not for you anyway. The country songs are right. You realize that love does not really exist and you don’t think you will ever have it, or ever have it again. You’re OK with that. Then you start listening to the country songs backwards…

17. You receive your first gift from someone you love.

Whether it’s the first gift you get from someone you love, or the first gift you give to someone you love. Whatever it is, it’s priceless.

18. You are rejected in love and feel like you died.

It’s the R word. Rejection. Someone doesn’t love you the way you love them and says, “No.” No to your love. This arrow lands in the center of your heart and you sit and bleed, trying to stop the pain with something else, like ice cream, or hours on the phone with a friend trying to make sense of it.

This is truly a mini death. You get through it and move on, and have your first love scar that (supposedly) makes you stronger.

19. You have your heart broken.

Your heart is completely and utterly broken by someone you love. Like Humpty Dumpty kind of broken, where all the kings horses can’t even help. Shattered love all over the floor. Someone said or did something unexpected. This is one milestone you don’t need to achieve in life, yet somehow most of us do. This is like a rite of passage. You go through your first heartbreak: it grows you up.

20. You find love in a group.

The world can be lonely at times, and knowing the feeling of being part of a group of some sort can be full of love. Be it a support group, lunch club, business network or clique at the bar or bowling alley. To know that a group has your back and loves you, and you love them, is an experience so different from love with one person. It’s a wonderful love milestone to have gone through a tough time and felt the group’s love holding you up.

21. You are promised eternal love.

Some day, somewhere, someone promises to love you forever.

Have you found the love that you dream will last forever? Maybe you’re far away from that dream. Remember this: there are always steps to finding any treasure, and love is no different.

Time spent in each love milestone, even if it’s dark and hopeless, brings maturity and growth. Whatever milestone you’re on, cherish it and know the next one is waiting to capture your heart.

You may be interested in this: Don’t Go Into Marriage If You Haven’t Done These Things

Featured photo credit: beautiful shot of kissing couple in the sunlight via Shutterstock

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